|Born||Obayemi Babajide Adetokunbo Onafuwa
June 27, 1975
Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States
|Notable works||Open City|
|Notable awards||2012 PEN/Hemingway Award
2012 New York City Book Award for Fiction 2013 International Literature Award
One of the difficulties of photography is that it is much better at being explicit than at being reticent.
Where land mines are indiscriminate, cheap, and brutal, drones are discriminate, expensive, and brutal. And yet they are insufficiently discriminate: the assassination of the Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in Pakistan in 2009 succeeded only on the seventeenth attempt.
We don't experience our lives as plots. If I asked you to tell me what your last week was like, you're not really gonna give me plot. You're gonna give me sort of linked narrative. And I wanted to see how do we bring that into fiction without losing the reader.
In a Transtromer poem, you inhabit space differently; a body becomes a thing, a mind floats, things have lives, and even non-things, even concepts, are alive.
In countries with a properly functioning legal system, the mob continues to exist, but it is rarely called upon to mete out capital punishment. The right to take human life belongs to the state. Not so in societies where weak courts and poor law enforcement are combined with intractable structural injustices.
The most common thing I find is very brilliant, acute, young people who want to become writers but they are not writing. You know, they really badly want to write a book but they are not writing it. The only advice I can give them is to just write it, get to the end of it. And, you know, if it's not good enough, write another one.
On many days my primary artistic struggle is, in fact, photography because it is harder to do good work with that. I see myself as an observer of the world who has a strong drive to testify, which I can do because I have the privilege of living in New York with enough food to eat and shelter.
When I've had enough of words, I go out into the city for a long walk; sometimes I'll go out walking for several miles. And I'll just take photographs and hope for something striking or unusual to happen that I can organize into a picture frame.
Lyrical poetry is not a big part of most people's lives. Twitter now becomes an interesting way of getting cared for language into people's space. Because there is something deep inside of us that responds to cared for language, whether it's literary, poetry, or really good lyrics in a song.
I was in New York City on 9/11. Grief remains from that awful day, but not only grief. There is fear, too, a fear informed by the knowledge that whatever my worst nightmare is, there is someone out there embittered enough to carry it out.
I'd like to meet fewer people who say 'Oh, I want to write a book, here are 10 pages I've written,' and more 'Oh, I want to write a book, here are 300 pages I've written.'
Religion is close to theatre; much of its power comes from the effects of staging and framing.
There was a feeling during the years of George W. Bush's presidency that his gracelessness as well as his appetite for war were linked to his impatience with complexity. He acted 'from the gut,' and was economical with the truth until it disappeared.
Breughel is an example of an artist – I mean, this is true about artists and painters in general, but he is a specific example of an artist whose work contains more than you think it does at first glance. Whose work rewards, sustains attention and looking.
We have for too long been taught that the sight of a man speaking to himself is a sign of eccentricity or madness; we are no longer at all habituated to our own voices, except in conversation or from within the safety of a shouting crowd.
Oh, I love labels, as long as they are numerous. I'm an American writer. I'm a Nigerian writer. I'm a Nigerian American writer. I'm an African writer. I'm a Yoruba writer. I'm an African American writer.
Probably the biggest temptation that young writers face is to be entertaining, to show your bag of tricks and do a bit of tap dancing. I read a lot of things, and I keep seeing this brocade of voice where someone is trying to be too pally with you or ingratiating on the page.
Always say 'no pun intended' to draw attention to the intended pun.
The content of Saul Leiter's photographs arrives on a sort of delay: it takes a moment after the first glance to know what the picture is about. You don't so much see the image as let it dissolve into your consciousness, like a tablet in a glass of water.
Never say 'I went to Harvard.' Say 'I schooled in the Boston area.'
One of the chief characteristics of a mob is its quickness. It is sudden. It pounces.
There are many people who know nothing of a world in which we take the reality of the 'other' seriously. I'm running on that platform: other people in other countries are really, really real, and there has to be a way of presenting their reality that is not condescending to them or about our psycho-social needs.
The original sense of the word 'influence' is 'to flow into.' For the most part, these writers that I admire… their style flows into me without my intervention, which is what explains the broad range of writers who I've been compared with; it reflects my reading.
I am a novelist. I traffic in subtleties, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn't have a point.
When I write, I have a sort of secret kinship of readers in all countries who don't know each other but each of whom, when they read my book, feels at home in it. So I write for those readers. It's almost a sense of writing for a specific person, but it's a specific person who I don't know.
For purposes of marketing, writers are designated as poets, novelists, or something else. But writing is about matchmaking, an attempt to marry sensations with apt words.
Old-school hip hop, i.e., whatever was popular when you were nineteen, is great. Everything since then is intolerable.
In 'Open City,' there is a passage that any reader of Joyce will immediately recognise as a very close, formal analogue of one the stories in 'Dubliners.' That is because a novel is also a literary conversation.
I'm not trying to be a poet on Twitter; I'm trying to be aware of the fact that a very simple sentence, well written, can have a very moving effect without that person knowing why. There's a deep genetic part of you that somehow, even without your permission, recognizes good language when it arrives.
Barack Obama is an elegant and literate man with a cosmopolitan sense of the world. He is widely read in philosophy, literature, and history – as befits a former law professor – and he has shown time and again a surprising interest in contemporary fiction.
Throughout his career, W.G. Sebald wrote poems that were strikingly similar to his prose. His tone, in both genres, was always understated but possessed of a mournful grandeur.
Punitive murder by the police and by vigilantes has existed in all societies at some point, and probably still exists in most.
I am suspicious of writers who say their work is original and influenced by nobody. If it is, it is probably uninteresting. The biggest source of novels is other novels.
I probably get a deeper satisfaction of having taken a very good photograph than of having written something very good, a very good story. Maybe it's because the element of magic is so present in a good photograph – luck and magic, but also hard work and being ready and all that.
Because I'm an art historian, I have some experience of writing that comes out of close attention. That's what really art history is. You're looking at something very closely, and you try to write in a meticulous way about it.
I am on Vine. It's another early-adopter kind of thing. I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do with it. What's interesting about it is that everybody knows these amazing restrictions we've put on it: I have to use my iPhone, I can only use one continuous take, I cannot edit afterwards, I cannot put sound afterwards.
Each time I caught sight of geese swooping in formation across the sky, I wondered how our life below might look from their perspective, and imagined that, were they ever to indulge in such speculation, the high-rises might seem to them like firs massed in a grove.
To read Transtromer – the best times are at night, in silence, and alone – is to surrender to the far-fetched. It is to climb out of bed and listen to what the house is saying, and to how the wind outside responds. Each of his readers reads him as a personal secret.